To the Roof of the Philippines

Last February, I was standing on the summit of Mt. Pulag watching the sunrise and the play of clouds when the idea materialized. I wondered if the sunrise at Mt. Apo would look this magnificent. Would the trek be rewarding? How would it feel to see the landscape from the highest mountain in the country?

It sounded great when I was up there, but as soon as I was back to civilization, the idea was becoming distant. An idea not acted upon would remain as such, just an idea.

However, a famous author wrote in a book, “when you want something, the whole universe will conspire to make it happen”. I was assured I would be in good hands by Sir Migs – which maybe had pushed the last nail for me to make the decision. But I was faced with an obstacle – I would be climbing with strangers. Strangers in a group named Extreme Outdoor Club, by its name I started to question the saneness of my decision.

COVERING THE BASES

Luckily I did not end up climbing solo with strangers, I found two companions whom I shared the excitement and the challenge. We booked via Cebu Pacific on its piso fare promos and the date was set. The physical preparation is important, but I came to learn with every climb that setting the mind is equally important. Human will can do miracles.

Davao greeted us in silence along with the good natured Sir Arde. That kind of silence – the absence of drunks on the streets, the loud videoke bars or the traffic which is omni-present in every growing city like Davao. We met Sir Edzel, who in a sense adopted us. An hour later, we were whisked towards a waiting van along with some of the participants of the climb – one was overly concerned with the cigarette ban and the other, a foreigner who somehow understood Filipino.

We spent the night at an old man’s home. He has this tarpaulin-sized picture of him with Mt. Apo on the background, hanging on one wall, and the years had somehow been kind, he didn’t seem to age at all.

The first day passed with a blur and we got to see the faces of the team, they were pleasant enough for a first impression. Some were rowdy, bickering back and forth – that sense of familiarity.

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The falls with its pristine water.

Sir Arde seemed to have encountered a problem with regards to our permit and we ended up spending a pleasant two-hour rest at Tausuvan Falls which entices you to take a wade on its clean waters.

And then it was time to start the trek and we began with an instant ascent. The team entered via Magpet and would exit via Kidapawan which is not the usual traverse as I later learned.

It was a slow trek as we were still adjusting to the rising altitude, I was gasping for air and my feet were becoming heavier but before I knew it, time for camp. Night crept in slowly and we were lulled to sleep by the creatures of the night.

Day 2 was the highlight of the climb for me. It was a steady climb, we passed by fallen trees covered beautifully with moss; huge trees covered by moss, ferns and orchids stretching up towards the sky; rocks covered with moss and more moss on the ground.

It was sometime after lunchtime that the rain came, forcing everyone to take a rest and huddle inside their raingears under nearby trees. It fell hard for a while, with the rays of the sun still streaming through the leaves high above our heads. It gave an ethereal panorama that had left me breathless.

But the next leg was pure nightmare; the trail ascended then descended and went on like that for a few hours. The downhill was the worst, it was muddy and slippery. Thanks to trekking pole we survived without falling flat on our butts.

By the time we descended on Lake Venado, we were all on auto pilot. It took me a few minutes to absorb the beauty of where I stood; that flat landscape at the foot of Mt. Apo surrounded by trees up in arms with moss. I easily forgot that I my shoulders seemed to have been dislocated, that moments ago I was cursing in my head. I momentarily forgot the face of the stranger who poured ethyl alcohol on the limatik which found its way on one my foot – he would later give us his water and would eventually give up his headlamp for me during the night trek on the third day.

I momentarily forgot all that because Mt. Apo loomed in the distance, seemingly lazy with its peak shrouded with fog. I stood there taking in the view and the thought was “It was all worth it”.

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VIEW FROM THE TOP

We started out a little late than the scheduled time but with the goal of reaching one of the summits before the sun rises. The group started the ascent with that in mind but the trail, as with other trails, was carved out years by water going down the mountains. It was now muddy, slippery and tricky. After an overnight use, the flashlight I had with me started going dim. Mid trail to the summit, my headlamp went kaput.

Sir Arde stayed with us and he good naturedly listened to the profanities that had stayed yesterday only in our heads but is now smoothly flowing out. He waited and encouraged us to finish the trek. Even lie sheepishly that we are near the summit or maybe it’s the local’s twisted metric of measurement again.

We reached the first summit pass the scheduled time and the rush of cold, freezing air into my lungs felt good; it was worthless to suppress a grin. I wanted to scream, to swear, to laugh out loud but I refrained in consideration with the sacredness of the mountain.

On the next summit, there was this huge rock formation that captured my attention, in minutes I had climbed mid length and was asking someone to take a picture. Everyone must have thought I was mad.

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The huge rock formation at the summit

Mt. Apo’s view does not disappoint, it was beautiful. One can see the boulders below with the yellowish tint of sulfur on top of rocks – which we vowed to see on our next climb, and on one side an almost dried up crater surrounded by sharp edged mountain rocks. The landscape that one sees from the top is vast, as mountains rise and fall after one another in the distance.

And as I stood on the summit against that blue sky and vast landscape, it downed on me how small I am, a dot just trying to make a difference, trying to find a niche in this vast landscape, scaling this mountain that is part of the universe. But with my small significance, I’ll do my best to make a difference. We who stood at that summit would try our best to make a difference in a complex world that we helped create. Up on the mountain, life is much simpler and seemingly God is much nearer.

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The show

The sun peaked at us for a few minutes, the cloud played for a while and then the mist took over.

The mountain had showed us what we came for and is telling us now to get off of it. It had shared to us its beauty and seemingly asking us to come back when we have mustered our courage again.

The mountain gave me a much wonderful gift and would always be eternally grateful.#

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2 thoughts on “To the Roof of the Philippines

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